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Winnipeg survives road trip in fairly good shape

by Patrick Williams
WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets dined well on their seven-game road trip through the Eastern Conference, but they still returned home hungry.

The Jets collected eight of a possible 14 points on the 3-2-2 trip, their longest journey of the season, including wins over the Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers and New York Islanders. Winnipeg concluded the 13-day trek on Tuesday evening with a 6-5 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

"It was long," goaltender Ondrej Pavelec said. "Two weeks. But I enjoyed it. I like to be on the road. Overall, it was a good road trip."

Thursday night, Winnipeg fans will see the 5-7-3 Jets back on home ice for the first time since Oct. 24, when the Florida Panthers visit the MTS Centre. The Panthers, one of the NHL's early surprises, arrived in Winnipeg fresh off a 5-1 road win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Jets will have just enough time in Winnipeg to collect their mail, re-acquaint themselves with their families and play the Panthers before going back on the road for a Saturday date with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It was long. Two weeks. But I enjoyed it. I like to be on the road. Overall, it was a good road trip." -- Jets goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec

"You do know that you're taking off [Friday], but we've just got to concentrate on this one," defenseman Mark Stuart said of the meeting with the Panthers. "This one is a huge one for us. To come home in front of our fans off a good trip, this is important."

The solid road performance saw injuries ravage the Winnipeg blue line. The Jets lost workhorse defenseman Tobias Enstrom to a broken collarbone on Oct. 31. Randy Jones took a blistering shot to the inside of his right foot against the Islanders and has now missed three games. Stuart missed two games to an assortment of bumps and bruises, while Nik Antropov suffered a hand injury that cost him a pair of games. Backup goaltender Chris Mason's groin injury in the trip's first game at Philadelphia forced Pavelec to play the rest of the way despite lugging a heavy workload in both minutes and pucks sent in his direction.

That injured group joined right wing Eric Fehr and defensemen Ron Hainsey and Derek Meech in the Winnipeg medical ward. The Jets have now lost 70 man-games to injury over the first month of the season.

The long injury list forced several Jets to log heavier minutes and play beyond their standard roles. Zach Bogosian has logged ice times of 28:50 and 29:47 over his past two games to help hold the Winnipeg blue line together. After a poor performance against the Flyers in a wild 9-8 win on Oct. 27, Pavelec supplied the Jets with a .910 save percentage in picking up three wins, one of them a shutout, over the next six games.

"If you play more, you feel more confident," Pavelec said of finding his rhythm of late.

The blue-line injuries also opened up opportunities for American League veterans Brett Festerling and Mark Flood, who joined the club midway through the trip on recall from the St. John's IceCaps. Flood collected his first NHL goal in a shootout loss at New Jersey last Saturday and added another goal against the Sabres.

Evander Kane
Left Wing - WPG
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 8
SOG: 46 | +/-: -2
Up front, right wing Evander Kane led all Jets win scoring with a 4-goal, 6-point effort on the trip. Versatile Kyle Wellwood filled in on a variety of lines. The Jets also discovered they possess a scoring touch, something that was a major concern heading into the season. They rolled up nine goals in Philadelphia and five against Ryan Miller and the Sabres. Two of the goals in Buffalo came from Bryan Little, erasing his 14-game goal drought to start the season.

But penalty trouble continues to plague the Jets, who surrendered 12 power plays to the Sabres. Buffalo converted four of those opportunities against the Winnipeg penalty kill. The Jets' combination of penalties (Winnipeg ranks 23rd in the League) and a 22nd-ranked penalty kill is a source of concern for coach Claude Noel, though he is not inclined to overly emphasize the situation at this point.

"I'm not going to take one game … and overanalyze that situation," Noel said. "We are accountable for our actions. We lost the game because we lost the game. We weren't disciplined enough, and some of the penalties that we took were not good. We deserved to be in the box."

Winnipeg's struggling penalty kill does not afford the Jets an opportunity to adopt a more liberal approach to taking penalties.

"We can't play that way right now. We don't do a good job there, so that should be more urgency for us to not take penalties. We're not there," Noel said.
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